Monday, July 13, 2009

A worldwide program that aims to increase the level of technological literacy in pre-university... let's get it started!

This article was written about the IEEE Region 7 Teacher in-Service Program Workshop in May 2009, attended by the following Ottawa Chapter WIE members:

(from left to right)
  • Barbora Dej, Carleton University M.Eng. candidate, Carleton WISE external affairs executive
  • Laura Mutu, Carleton University B.Eng candidate, WIE Carleton Chair 08/09, 09/10
  • Jennifer Ng, Project Manager at Abbott Point of Care, WIE Ottawa Chair 2009
  • Rosalyn Seeton, Carleton University M.A.Sc., Research Assistant, Carleton WISE outreach officer
What is TISP?
The IEEE Teacher in-Service Program (TISP) development workshop is designed for enthusiastic IEEE members, pre-university teachers, and any other individuals who wish to increase the level of technological literacy in their local schools and encourage pre-university students to pursue technical careers (including engineering). The goal is for IEEE members to develop and conduct TISP training sessions with teachers so that teachers can conduct the sessions with their students. The volunteer-teacher interaction is what makes TISP unique. This year the Region 7 IEEE TISP workshop occurred on May 15 and 16 in Montréal, Québec. For more information about the 2009 TISP Workshop in Montréal, including the agenda, presentations, and pictures, visit the following link:
How do you get in touch with your local educators or education representatives? Ask them out to dinner ...
written by Jennifer Ng

While on the discussion panel at the Montreal TISP R7 event, one of attendees asked me and other panelists: "so how do you recommend for us (IEEE) to prepare and get in touch with the local education people?" My tongue-in-cheek response was "Ask them out to dinner and talk to them". Sometimes the simplest solution just works best. Don't start thinking about what PowerPoint slides to include or what to wear. And I was quite serious with my answer given that is how it happened for the Ottawa Section.

I attended my first TISP workshop in 2004 (held by R1 in Boston) and I was an invited guest speaker at the Education Summit held in Munich in November 2007. From my experience, I knew that it would be pointless to hold a workshop about education without having the educators themselves introduced, engaged and involved. When putting together the Ottawa Section delegation, it was important to have a balance of volunteers and interested educators.

Through one of my speaking engagements (my first WIE Carleton event) in Ottawa, I met Rosalyn Seeton and found out that she is the coordinator of YSTOP (Youth Science and Technology Outreach Program). YSTOP is a government program that funds projects to connect youth with science and technology mentors and it is where all the Ottawa school boards were well represented. Through her contacts and many emails later, I e-introduced myself and IEEE briefly. Eventually, after securing funding from the SSIT (Society on Social Implications of Technology) local chapter, I invited the school board representatives and a few IEEE volunteers to an informal dinner where I could give them more information about IEEE and TISP. The dinner was very well attended and we were able to casually discuss our common goals and initiatives as well as make plans for the upcoming TISP R7 event in Montréal.

My advice to all aspiring TISP champions and volunteers out there: first seek to understand (à la Stephen Covey) what your local educators need before trying to overwhelm them with all the greatness of IEEE and TISP. Non-engineers can be quite intimidated by us so be conscious of each other's role in this partnership: theirs is to follow a curriculum set by the government bodies - while enthusiastically engaging the next generations to follow STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) careers - and our role is to assist in filling any gaps or any incertitude that they might encounter.

I am quite lucky to have a very active small group of WIE members in Ottawa who continuously amaze me with their ideas, talent and energy. Please read on to what they have to say about their perspectives on the event.

TISP Online Resources

written by Barbora Dej is the IEEE pre-university education portal for counselors, teachers, parents, and students. It is the main resource for the TISP program and is available in 7 languages: Chinese, German, Portuguese, Russian, Japanese, Spanish, French, and English. I browsed through the different resources and here is a run-down of the website's features:

  • opportunities to explore the field of engineering including how to become an engineer, what it's like to be an engineer, what are the different engineering disciplines, as well as information about engineering societies
  • a university search for accredited engineering programs all over the world
  • opportunities to ask an expert (an engineer or undergraduate) a question and includes a frequently asked questions section
  • approved lesson plans for teaching engineering and design (many translated in the available languages)
  • student opportunities ranging from summer camps and competitions to internships and research positions
  • links to online engineering games
  • a mailing list and newsletter
Unfortunately, I found very few listings in Canada in the student opportunities section: 4 pre-university (all in Toronto), 0 undergraduate, 0 graduate. Now I'm very proud of all that Canada has going on for students in engineering, and this almost empty list just doesn't cut it. So I'd like to do something about it, but I need your help. I invite you all to submit major listings in your regions by clicking on "submit a listing". So far, as part of her very valuable role as Carleton University WISE outreach officer, I asked Rosalyn Seeton to submit major pre-university opportunities available in Ottawa. With the millions of hits this website gets per year, I think Canada deserves to be better represented.

Hands-on TISP activities at the event

written by Rosalyn Seeton

During the Region 7 TISP meeting in Montreal all participants had the opportunity to try out two hands on TISP activities from the approved lesson plans available online at Activities are designed with an age guideline so that competencies are matched appropriately, but all TISP Montreal participants were adults and had either an engineering or a teaching background.

The first activity we did was called "All About Electric Motors" and we got to build an electric motor. The suggested age range is 10-18 years and this lesson addresses principles of electric motors, magnetism, and electric currents. A toy motor kit with all the required parts is provided to each participant and the main task is assembling the kit appropriately. While this may sounds simple enough, the activity was actually fairly challenging and most participants did not get the chance to successfully complete their motor in the allotted time. While the final product is actually pretty neat, the drawback to this activity is that there are too many opportunities for the assembly to go wrong. While the instructions are detailed, they can be confusing at times and if certain pieces are not assembled perfectly, the motor will not function properly in the end. An extraordinary amount of dexterity, patience, attention to detail, and perseverance are needed in order to achieve a positive outcome from the assembly of the motor. While some students would find this activity quite rewarding, I would anticipate that about half of your average high school class would get frustrated or lose interest midway through. However, there is a substantial amount of supporting documents for this lesson that explore the principles and applications of electric motors. The hands on activity is only one aspect of the lesson and if presented in the right light, I believe it could be very rewarding. I would recommend it as an activity for older students (grades 10-12) or for advanced classes. Alternatively, if a class were divided into small groups and each group were given a mentor that had done the assembly before, students could be kept on track and avoid a lot of potentially painful mistakes.

The second activity was "Build Your Own Robot Arm". The age level for this lesson is 8-18 years and it aims to teach design concepts, the impact of technology on manufacturing, and soft skills like teamwork and problem solving. This activity has a very different feel to it; while the electric motor activity requires following a very strict set of instructions in order to succeed, the robot arm activity has no right or wrong answers. The basic activity is to build a mechanical arm with everyday household materials. The arm should have the ability to pick up objects by way of actuators that can be controlled by an operator at the opposite end of the arm. In keeping with design principles, an accompanying sketch of the prototype is also required. The activity was presented to our group as a mission charged to us by the Canadian Space Agency, but it could easily be adapted to other scenarios such as creating a prosthetic arm for an amputee or making the oscilloscope arm for a surgical robot. This activity was much more imaginative from start to finish and focused more on physically exploring what works and what doesn't. We were not told how to design anything, we were simply given a set of requirements and it was up to us to figure out how we would achieve them with the materials in front of us. When the facilitator deemed that it was time to add more challenging requirements, he stayed in character and had us witness one side of a phone call from head office in keeping with the Canadian Space Agency theme. The neat thing about this activity is that so many different solutions emerge from the challenge as each group approaches the problem in a unique manner. Teammates must work together and utilize each other's strengths, and while the designing and building requires a certain amount of focus, there is also the opportunity to interact with other groups at the table. In general, I think this activity positively illustrates what engineers do and it highlights the teamwork, communication, and problem solving aspects of the job. Participants also inadvertently learn about material properties such as strength, stiffness, and flexibility. I think this activity would be appropriate for all age groups. Though younger children may find the assembly aspect to be more challenging they might be less rigid in their thought process and find it easier to come up with creative solutions than older people might. I think it would be interesting to run this activity with a group, then teach them some of the principles covered by the activity (such as how an actuator works or how to strengthen a material by manipulating it appropriately), then have them do a similar activity again with their enhanced knowledge of design.

Behind the Scenes
written by Laura Mutu

The weather in Montreal was amazing on the first day of the conference. It was a perfect day to experience the city before the conference, which is what Carolyn, Rosalyn, Barbora, and I did. After a few hours of exploring we ended up wandering around the streets of downtown searching for the perfect Montreal chicken place. We would share, but our guide compelled us to keep it secret. All we can say is that it was worth the wild goose chase. Fortunately, we came back just in time to help at the registration desk, where we were happily impressed by the diversity of the attendees’ backgrounds and also, of the speakers.

During the dinner and the activities especially, we all had the chance to meet IEEE volunteers from all over Canada and the world. I found this a very enriching experience since we had the opportunity to learn about the different academic structures and the way various people perceive outreach. We all had a positive experience and left thinking about the ways in which we can contribute to the TISP. This conference showed us that the path to success can be easier and more enjoyable than at first glance through persistence and positivism.

While leaving the beautiful city of Montreal, we suddenly decided to turn back and visit the old port. Unfortunately, our guide lost her compass, most certainly because of the heavy rain, so after an hour or so of driving around the outskirts of Montreal, being delayed by stop signs, red lights and one way streets, we decided to let go and head back to Ottawa.


Gail Carmichael said...

Great writeup ladies! Wish I could have gone...