Punch Through Design Blog

Founded in Minneapolis, based in San Francisco. We love the Internet of Things, Bluetooth Low Energy, and surfing.

2012-08-23 Notes: 1

The First Lecture

"If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea."

- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

I’ve had the good fortune of finding projects outside of school that motivate me to learn.  While in school I noticed that this was lacking in other people and in turn made school feel much harder for them.  I have a lot of complaints about the higher education system, and I decided it’s time to try and make some improvements.  

Enter ‘The First Lecture’, a simple experiment to see if it is possible to dramatically improve students lives (and indirectly, their grades) by providing the right motivation (the vast and endless sea) and better tools (the right ship for the journey).  To highlight how easy it is to make this change, I’m going to try and do it all within the first lecture.

I’m focusing on one class at my former university, which is feared by all Software and Electrical Engineers: Microcontrollers.  It should be seen as the most useful and exciting class — the knowledge you attain enables you to build all kinds of crazy things very easily. 

However, instead of excitement and curiosity, the course is greeted with fear and dread.  It even causes some students to reconsider their major.  Without the right motivation, the content is extremely difficult. 

I had the good fortune of discovering micro controllers before I was being graded, and had a totally different experience.  The minute someone explained them to me - a small chip that you can program on your PC - my mind was blown.  I was hooked.  I spent a solid week revamping old projects that never worked.  I programmed that little chip hundreds of times a day, hacking my way through assembly programming in the least efficient way possible.  I was doing things that would make real programmers cringe.  I ran into bugs that made my head spin.  

But, all the while my curiosity was roaring and not once did I feel like I was working.

In this class, the students have to share the equipment that programs their chips.  This means they can’t work on the labs outside of class, and they often have to wait for a lab station to open up.  Additionally, they have no equipment in the lab to show them the logic signals coming out of the chip, which makes it very difficult to debug.  All of this equipment can be had for less than $200 per student.  See the following page for more information.

My hope is that with one short lecture, and donated tools, the current students can experience the same excitement and curiosity as I did, and go take over the world. (with micro controllers.)

Have ideas as to how this could be improved, expanded?  Contact me!  ck at this domain, via twitter, or facebook

The First Lecture — Equipment

Saleae Logic Analyzer — $150 Retail, Donation cost TBD 

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Microchip PicKit2 Programmer — $35 Retail, Donation cost TBD

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