After re-reading my notes on last year’s hysteresis lab, I realized that my schedule for this week in the Revised plan for circuits labs, with both the hysteresis lab and the sampling lab in the same week was too ambitious. There was a chance that the students could do the hysteresis lab in 3 hours, but only if they already understood everything in the pre-lab assignment and worked efficiently. A lot of the students, however, only learn by repeatedly bumping into a brick wall, and don’t really have any notion of solving general problems before they encounter them in the lab, so I expected a lot of students to waste time today doing the pre-lab assignment in lab. My expectation there was amply fulfilled.
I decided to cancel (or at least postpone) the sampling and aliasing lab, and spend both Tuesday and Thursday on the hysteresis lab. I don’t think we’ll be able to double up the labs next week, but the week after may be a little thinner, and we may be able to squeeze in the sampling and aliasing then.
Everyone got the two input thresholds for the 74HC14N Schmitt trigger (with 3.3v inputs) measured, and they all got essentially the same values. Some of them took a long time getting there, because I did not hand them a test circuit, but asked them to come up with one themselves. One group used an adjustable bench power supply for Vin, but the rest (eventually) came up with using a potentiometer as a voltage divider and recording the input and output with the PteroDAQ software. For some, I had to do more guidance than I really liked, getting them to decompose the problem into having the Schmitt trigger as one component with a variable input and the pot as another component with a variable output. Since they had done a very similar setup for the mic lab last week, and I had explained the pot as a variable voltage divider at that time, I had expected them to instantly see how to apply it, but most did not. Still, everyone eventually got it, and I think that the ones who struggled the most now have a much solider understanding of voltage dividers and potentiometers than if I had just given them a circuit to copy.
I did get to show the PteroDAQ users a useful feature of the program—by connecting the output to PTD4 (or one of the other digital pins of port A or port D), PteroDAQ can be set to trigger whenever the output changes values. A few sweeps of the pot past the threshold values reveals quite repeatable voltages at which the transition occurs, without having to page through a long trace of uninteresting info.
The groups then struggled with coming up with the right RC time constant for their oscillators. I’m probably going go over the calculation in class tomorrow, since I think everyone got a reasonable result, but not everyone was clear enough about their method to write it up well. I want to see clear explanations in the lab report, so I’ll go over it to help them smooth out the bumps in their explanations.
Some other things I want to do tomorrow:
- Talk about Carol Dweck’s work on mindset, as one of the students frequently wonders aloud whether the class is too difficult for her, and some of the other students may be thinking that they “don’t have the ability”. So far as I can tell, everyone in the class has the ability to master all the material in the class—but I need to get them out of “fixed mindset” into “growth mindset” and recognize that they can do more than they credit themselves with, if they are willing to work for it.
- Have them go over their computations of the finger-touch capacitive sensor and compare answers with each other. I want to make sure that they express their answers in standard units (like pF) and that they are careful about units (mixing mils, cm, and F/m probably confused a lot of students).
During the lab time, I had each group come up to use my micrometer to measure a double-thickness of packing tape. I must be using a different roll of tape than in previous years, because we consistently got about 1.7mil (0.043mm) with my Imperial units micrometer (that is we measured 3.4–3.5 mil for the double thickness), while last year I had 2.2mil. I should probably get a metric one, but I may be too cheap to spend $14 on a tool I use once a year in this class. Besides, this gave me an opportunity to tell students the difference between mil and mm, which most of them did not know. Since a lot of materials still come with thickness specifications in mil, they should at least be aware of the existence of the unit and the potential for confusion. (Several had done the prelab homework assuming 2.2mm, which would be very thick packing tape.)
- Assign one of the voltage-divider do-now problems from last year. Perhaps this one?
- What is the output voltage for a 3-resistor voltage divider? (I’ll draw the circuit)
- You have sensor whose resistance varies from 1kΩ to 4kΩ with the property it measures and a 5v power supply. Design a circuit whose output voltage varies from 1v (at 1kΩ) to 2v (at 4kΩ).
Two or three of the groups managed to get their relaxation oscillators to oscillate and measured the frequency on the digital scopes. One group got as far as adjusting the R and C values to get the frequency within the spec given in the homework (10kHz to 100kHz), and started the next step (making the capacitance touch sensor out of aluminum foil and packing tape). Lab on Thursday will consist of everyone getting the oscillators working in spec, testing the change in frequency for a finger touch (which may need some capacitor changes, as I think some are using a small R and large C, which won’t have enough frequency change with the small capacitance of a finger touch), testing the oscillator with the KL25Z boards (with my new code), and soldering up the circuits on PC boards.
Students are beginning to get the message that when they ask me whether some result is right, my answer will be what my father taught me: “Try it and see!” When they ask me for help using the equipment or debugging when they get too frustrated, I’m more helpful, but I’m not going to check their work for them when the real world can do that so much better. Besides, the simple models we are using are not all that accurate—even if they do a perfect job of the computation, the real-world behavior will be enough different that they’ll need to tweak the component values anyway. This is another lesson I want them to get—the real world is not as simple as the spherical-cow models used in physics classes and intro EE, but the spherical-cow models are nonetheless useful.