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Mentoring Spotlight: Dynamic Group Circuit Design

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Our school Culture Architect, Pamela Barker, is a social-emotional learning expert. We couldn't imagine a better mentor for our new 6th- and 7th-grade students! Kind, thoughtful, supportive, and an expert in adolescent development, she is effectively shepherding our cohort of youngest students to make their transition to their new school as seamless as possible. In addition to facilitating reading, academic discussion, and writing skills, Compass teacher mentors also help students explore, develop, and complete a project of their own, and they meet with them regularly to discuss their progress on these projects. Not surprisingly, some of our students want to do projects in which mentors have no expertise. One of the things that makes Pamela so special is the way that she reaches out to her connections in our community to get her students professional support for their projects. For example, two of our students this year have wanted to build personal computers for their CARE project. Pamela connected these 6th and 8th-graders to Adam Bierman, an electrical engineer at Dynamic Group Circuit Design.

Pamela says:

"I have been so impressed with Adam's ability to bring complex engineering problems to a level that the 8th- and 6th-grade students have been able to access. He seems to know what middle schoolers need! He is highly supportive and continues to hold high expectations so that the students feel safe in working at a professional level. What seems huge, suddenly becomes doable. I have watched with amazement as he guides his mentees to scale and organize the projects to support success. Adam is revealing and demystifying the process that he uses as a professional all the time so that students can see that these are professional skills that they are learning in middle school!"

Mr. Bierman says:

"The construction of a desktop computer is a project of no small complexity, whether in 6th grade or 60th, and requires good adherence to plans, schedules, and budgets to make sure everything works out the way you intend and without breaking the bank.

I’m Adam Bierman, a Sr. Electrical Engineer with Dynamic Group Circuit Design, a small and locally owned engineering services business here in town. We provide a variety of electrical engineering design solutions and products to customers large and small. Over the last semester I’ve been privileged to have the opportunity to work with students at Compass to help them design and construct desktop PCs for their CARE projects.

Over the course of a project I work with students to help them develop strategies and tools to help them progress through the various stages of computer development as a project in addition to a technical exercise. These include things like block diagramming, creating and using project dashboards, making budgets, and developing bills of materials. We start by determining what kind of a computer is needed (or cutting the middle-person out and assuming we want a gaming PC) and developing a reasonable budget based on past experiences and system requirements. We work through identifying the most appropriate parts on the market, putting a bill of materials together, costing the project, getting budgets approved and figuring out where costs can be cut or added on at a later time without sacrificing the functionality of the machine. Once all the financials are approved, and parts are in place, I help prepare and guide them through the assembly process, allowing the student to research and plan as much as possible with my guidance and advice, and giving the green light to build when we think we are ready. After construction we go through safety verifications and powering up the system, where we are then ready to install our software and start using the machine; or troubleshoot any errors we encounter.

I find that getting to see this process from the perspective of someone fresh is absolutely refreshing, I really enjoy watching the light bulbs turn on and seeing their satisfaction at their progress. Shaping projects with this much flexibility and open-endedness while also managing the very real constraints students have is a challenging and fun activity. I also find this is an excellent opportunity for the kids to learn some of the more abstract concepts and skills that are required in many fields, not just STEM fields; project management, budgeting, scheduling, planning, contingencies, etc… Skills and subjects I wish had been more prominently featured in my own education.

We try to have as much technical and philosophical conversation as we can about why we need to look at the things we do, how the different pieces and parts work together, and how these factors all have different dependencies on each other in the hopes that future builds will not be a rote repeatable process but a critical thinking activity that encourages creative solutions using what we’ve learned.

I hope to see an increase in interest from students in the future and look forward to more projects to come!”