Diane Combs is a PLTW Engineering Teacher with credits in Digital Electronics (DE) and Engineering Design and Development (EDD). As a licensed civil engineer in the state of Texas, Mrs. Combs brings 25 years of industry experience into her classroom. She enjoys connecting the classroom work to real-world experiences and invites multiple industry speakers throughout the year. In her (very rare) free time, she enjoys gardening, camping, traveling, and any outdoor activity. Diane teaches at Hillcrest High School in Dallas, Texas.
Face it: Digital Electronics is a difficult class. With the exception of scientific notation, there is very little – if any – content in this class that the students have already learned in another class. The vocabulary is new and confusing; there is a lot of math, but not math they have learned before; and the logic should be logical, but it still seems difficult.
About the time my DE students are completely overwhelmed with Boolean algebra and scientific notation, I give them a treat and let them learn to solder. Very few have any idea what we are about to do, so I show a couple of videos where it is explained. Following that I give each of them a "How to Solder" comic book that has illustrations and is very detailed. They put this comic book in their engineering notebook and then actually READ the entire thing because it is very easy to read and entertaining. Email me at email@example.com if you want the comic book; it totally rocks!
About this time they are begging to solder, so we start on the random number generator. I bought a sectioned plastic case so that I can organize the many components that come in these kits. Since this is the one of the first times the students have worked with these components, just sorting them out and making sure everyone has the right pieces is a challenge in itself. After this, I ask the students to read the instructions that came with the kits so they can plan their project and again confirm they have the correct components.
Actual soldering takes about two days of block time, or a bit more. Student pairs share a soldering iron so there is not too much going on at one time. Another tip is to bring in a couple of fans to help blow the fumes away. This is easy for me because I have an exterior door. I honestly never thought I would put a 750-degree soldering iron into the hands of a 15 year old, but they love it and I have never had an injury or incident! This is absolutely their favorite thing that we do all year, and they beg to do it again. When my senior students go to the feeder junior high to help recruit for our academy, they all say that soldering is their favorite activity.
When our budgets allow, or I get a Donors Choose project funded, I also buy extra kits so they can practice again. In fact, we use our laser engraver to engrave items for the school as a fundraiser to help us earn money to buy more kits, as the electronics stores that have the best selection are not vendors in Donors Choose. In addition, I also follow a couple of websites that show how to create your own projects mostly with the components we already have, so I will be doing some of that this year. It is the highlight of their year!