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Printed circuit boards are the lifeblood of our modern-day technologically advanced societies, underpinning just about any electrical device you can think of.
Understanding what they are and how they work is a vital skill that will only become more crucial as more aspects of our lives are aided by electronic devices.
However, a global technology skills shortage is a serious concern here. Indeed, it is estimated that up to 375 million people worldwide may be forced into a career change as advances in technology alter the way we do our jobs – and even the jobs that we do.
One way to shrink the skills gap is to introduce these core skills to young children as part of their education.
STEM already forms a significant part of curriculums the world over, but computer science is a badly needed addition as we face a future that is increasingly entwined with technology.
Schools offering computer science have grown significantly in the UK, although some teachers – predominantly at primary levels, ages 4-11 – have raised concerns about their ability to deliver classes to their full potential.
Here, we'll look at how PCBs are enhancing education programmes as well as listing great hands-on ideas to bring kids' imaginations to life while learning fundamental computer science skills.
Using PCBs in education settings
The UK's computer science curriculum states that by seven years of age, children should be able to "create and debug simple programs".
There may be concerns from some teachers about delivery, as stated. However, there are amazing resources available to teachers in the UK from the National Centre for Computing Education, which provides lesson ideas for children as well as certificates for teachers to improve their own skills and confidence before it comes to delivery.
The BBC micro:bit is a single board computer that can give kids at this age their first taste of programming, perhaps to compose a tune using basic block-based coding.
The need for these skills may stem from serious real-world issues, but the key to delivery in computer science is fun. A survey of American students found that computer science and engineering ranked as one of the subjects that they enjoyed the most.
And as students get older, the projects don't need to lose that sense of wonder as they become more complex. Listed below are PCB projects for kids across all stages of education, starting with UK Key Stage 2 (ages 7-11) when learners are likely to first get their hands on a board such as the micro:bit.
Five educational projects using PCBs
- Make a micro:bit pedometer: Using the accelerometer on the micro:bit, students can program the board to count upwards as they take a step. To further enhance the project, can students measure their strides to calculate how far they have travelled?
- Make a PCB lamp: You may look to scale this up or down depending on the abilities of your students, making more complex housing structures.But the fundamentals are the same as creating a circuit that can make a light come on or off at the flick of a switch.
- Make a clap switch: If you want to take the lamp project another step further… why not swap out the traditional switch for a clap switch that activates the light when sound is detected? This requires a few more parts and will challenge students to create a device that is compact.
- Make a spy microphone: Appeal to your students' inner James Bond and create an acoustic telescope capable of picking up sounds from farther away than a typical microphone.
- Make a door alarm: You could challenge your class to create something resembling a burglar alarm that buzzes when a door is opened.Or add a timed element into the mix by building an alarm that goes off if a fridge door has been left open for too long.
Why choose DesignSpark's PCB service for education?
If you want to create custom PCBs for your students, DesignSpark's service enables you to customise every part of a board and then produce them at scale.
- Flexible subscriptions: We offer three tiers of plans that come with a range of features to suit your project. Our Explorer plan is completely free of charge and gives you access to an unlimited number of schematic sheets and PCB layers.
The Creator plan offers an extra installed copy as well as an integrated SnapEDA CAD library and advanced DRC checks. Our top-of-the-range Engineer plan adds advanced features such as hierarchical schematic designs, blind and buried vias, and IPC-2581 output.
Check out our subscriptions page for a full rundown of what each one includes.
- Ease of use: We're confident you'll be able to design the PCB you need using our intuitive system, even if you're not a CAD expert. If you do get stuck, our comprehensive library of tutorial videos can help you along the way.
- Detailed BOM: You'll get a detailed Bill of Materials with our system, giving you oversight of all parts, items and assemblies that your PCB requires. This allows you to source them how you prefer – or you can always leave that to us!
- Extensive library: Either start working from our ready-to-use libraries of designs, symbols and footprints, or you can create your own for a personalised project.
- No size limits: Even if you are a subscriber to our free-of-charge Explorer account, you can create a PCB to whatever specifications you need. No matter what size, shape or number of schematic sheets you need, we'll make it for you.
Login or register today to get started creating PCBs with DesignSpark.