Researchers at Oregon State University are taking an
innovative approach to teaching computer science concepts to middle school
students using tabletop games such as Connect Four and Battleship. Working in
partnership with teachers and administrators at Linus Pauling Middle School in
Corvallis, Oregon, the team will develop and investigate a new curriculum to
teach algorithmic thinking to sixth and seventh graders.
The project is part of a national movement called CSforALL
and funded by a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation. This is
the second grant impacting K-12 education that Jennifer Parham-Mocello,
assistant professor of computer science, has received this year; the first was funded
The co-principal investigators on the National Science
Foundation grant are Martin Erwig, Stretch Professor of Computer Science, and
Margaret Niess, emeritus professor of education.
This year, the team is working on curriculum development,
which will be completed by the summer of 2020 when the middle school teachers
will conduct classes for an Oregon State University STEM Academy summer camp.
In the fall of 2020, the teachers will deliver the new curriculum in their
sixth and seventh grade classes. The third year, the team will be refining the
curriculum and adding more games.
The purpose of the grant is to make computer science more
accessible and interesting to a broad range of young people. As a dual language
immersion school, Linus Pauling Middle School offers an opportunity for the
researchers and teachers to impact students from diverse backgrounds.
In addition to the regular curriculum, the group will be
hosting family game nights twice a year at the school so that students can show
their families and friends what they have been learning.
“One of the reasons we picked games for teaching
computational thinking is because they involve social interactions,”
Parham-Mocello said. “So, we thought the game nights would be a fun way for the
students to practice and get the families involved.”
Vishvas Chalishazar, Kamesh Mullapudi, and Sharmin Kibria took top honors for the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the Oregon State College of Engineering’s Graduate Research Showcase.
The three also presented their research posters at the Oregon Stater Awards ceremony a week later, where they were able to meet with distinguished alumni.
Preventing massive power outages
In the summer of 2003, a massive blackout occurred in the power grid in the northeast United States and Canada, resulting in a loss of power for two days, affecting 55 million people across eight states and Ontario. The cause of the outage was traced back to the grid’s control center failing to identify few anomalies in measurements and not providing an accurate analysis of the problem. Because the control center was unaware of the situation, it wasn’t able to take preventive action in time, and the fault spread throughout the interconnected grid.
Working with Jinsub Kim, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, doctoral student Sharmin Kibria is looking for ways to prevent power outages, big and small. She is developing better ways for control systems to detect and identify anomalies in measurements and fix issues before they become problems.
Conventional methods for detecting anomalies in measurements rely on measurements collected by sensors at only a single time point of interest. In Kibria’s algorithm, the sensing system scans the grid continually — every two to four seconds — to obtain readings from multiple time points and use them to enhance accuracy of measurement correction. The key idea is to exploit a generic property of anomalies in a sensor network. Specifically, their locations tend to be invariant over multiple measurement periods.
“We can accurately identify where the error is and throw out corrupted data and use healthy measurements,” Kibria said.
Kibria tested her proposed algorithm on a model of a portion of the New England power grid and it outperformed the benchmark technique that uses single measurements, showing great promise for a better system that won’t leave us in the dark.
Helping save lives after earthquakes
First place winner Vishvas Chalishazar, a doctoral student in electrical and computer engineering, is working with the energy systems research group to help make sure critical buildings, like hospitals, remain functional after an earthquake.
“The main idea is to make the whole electrical grid more robust, more resilient, and add more redundancies,” Chalishazar said.
Although it is impossible to ensure that the entire grid never loses power, Chalishazar is working to figure out which nodes in a grid will likely become impaired and help electric utility companies develop their plans to shore up specific assets in their grids.
Under the guidance of Ted Brekken and Eduardo Cotilla-Sanchez, professors of electrical and computer engineering, Chalishazar developed and ran one million simulations on a simple 3-bus electrical grid model. His next step will be to develop and apply simulations to the Oregon State University’s Corvallis campus grid, which consists of 286 buses.
The energy systems group is working with the Central Lincoln People’s Utility District, Portland General Electric, and Pacific Power to research grid operation, planning, and analysis methods for improved resiliency.
Pushing the limits of Moore’s Law
Many scientists have been predicting that the death of Moore’s Law — that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit (IC) doubles each year — is imminent, but electrical and computer engineering doctoral student Kamesh Mullapudi is working to delay its demise.
IC manufacturers are currently working on developing and producing 10-nanometer node transistors. These transistors — some of them just 50 atomic layers across — are so small that finding defects on chips is challenging. Optical and electron microscopy techniques currently being used to detect defects, are inadequate and impractical for transistors that make up the latest microprocessors. Magnetic resonance can detect defects on this scale, but the giant magnets required are not practical and expensive.
To overcome these obstacles, Mullapudi is working with John Conley, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, on using low-field electrically detected magnetic resonance (LFEDMR) that uses small magnets and is extremely sensitive. This technology can help pinpoint not only which chips are defective on a wafer, but can help identify the cause of a particular defect.
In the chip manufacturing business, yield loss (the number of defective chips on a wafer) is costly.
“We’re working with Intel to develop the LFEDMR technique to a scale that is implementable in industry and ultimately increase their yield and profitability,” Mullapudi said.
Students spent 30 consecutive hours of engineering design, teamwork, and development at HWeekend on October 8-9, sponsored by the College of Engineering. The theme was “Show’em What You Got!”, and participants did just that, creating some of the most complete projects of any HWeekend. The purpose of the theme was to encourage projects that could be submitted to national competitions.
It was the sixth iteration of the highly successful event that gives engineering and business students an entire weekend to develop an idea and prototype it. Forty-two students participated with majors in electrical and computer engineering, computer science, mechanical engineering, nuclear engineering, and finance.
After some breakout brainstorming sessions and presentations of their ideas, participants split into 10 teams to work on their projects. The diverse ideas included a modified game of laser tag, a guitar that could tune itself, and a smart shin guard paired with a virtual reality environment.
One of the groups returned from the previous HWeekend held during Spring term. That group continued with their effort to build a ferrofluid display using individually wound electromagnets. The other groups were much newer to their projects, such as the mobile coffee heater group, which worked on finding components they could use to heat liquids in a drinking cup.
“The beautiful thing about this is that it’s fast paced and you really see results, even if they’re not exactly the results you hope for,” says Audrina Hahn, a mechanical engineering student, who worked on the Open Laser Tag project.
This event made use of the all-new Buxton Hall Makerspace, the Mastery Challenge lounge, and the Virtual Makerspace, which gave students access to 3D printing, soldering irons, a drill press, and laser cutting.
“It’s really amazing all the resources that we have available to us that are really simple to use and are things that are up-and-coming that we will probably continue to use into our careers,” Hahn says.
Mentors for this HWeekend included eight industry representatives. Martin Held from Microsemi returned to guide teams and answer hardware questions. Multiple mentors arrived from Intel in Hillsboro, including several recent graduates of Oregon State. These mentors split up to help on projects where their experience helped groups work with unfamiliar technologies. One group that benefitted was the motion tracking robot team, which received help with OpenCV from a mentor who revealed a personal interest in assembly programming.
Ben Buford was one of the recent graduates who came back from Intel to provide mentorship. He spent most of his time contributing to the ferrofluid display.
“I love seeing people come up with quick solutions that let them accomplish something and overcome obstacles that they didn’t know existed three hours prior,” Buford says.
Beyond the satisfaction of completing prototypes of their ideas, students at HWeekend compete for two group awards. The Executors award goes to the team that produces the best execution of their original idea to create the most polished final product and the Helping Hand is for the team that contributes the most to other teams. At this HWeekend, the Arbitrarily Tuned Stringed Instrument team was selected for both awards. The team included members Keaton Scheible, Youthamin “Bear” Philavastvanid, Elliot Highfill, and Savannah Loberger.
In their role as advisors, Lizbeth Marquez and Nick Malos help hundreds of students in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science navigate their way through college. Their goal is to help students succeed and ultimately earn their Oregon State degrees. According to a recent report from the Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education, only 60 percent of college freshmen get a bachelor’s degree within six years. While there are many reasons students don’t complete their degrees, Lizbeth and Nick have some advice to offer to help you succeed.
Get Organized College can be different from high school in that high school teachers tend to lead you through all the homework and due dates. In college, the professors post the assignments — often for the entire semester — and expect you to be prepared. Get a planner, use a smart phone app, or get a wall calendar — whatever it takes for you to know when assignments are due.
Find the right place to study It may be your dorm room or a cozy corner of the library, but find a place that works best for you to get your work done — while avoiding as many distractions as possible. There are many places to go such as the MU, the Valley Library, your residence hall, or most buildings on campus!
Seek a balance College life can be chaotic with various academic and social events. Make sure you stay balanced and don’t overload yourself. One way you can do this is by visiting OSU’s Mind Spa.
Get involved You may feel overwhelmed with being homesick or feeling like you don’t belong. We encourage you to consider joining a student group (and be careful not to go overboard), whether it’s academic, religious, athletic, cultural, or social. You’ll make new friends, learn new skills, and feel more connected to OSU.
Take advantage of the academic resources Most schools and colleges offer study tables or have tutors available. If you’re having difficulty, these resources are another tool available to you. Another idea: Talk to your classmates about getting a group together to study.
Explore your major and career options It is important to remember there is no one “right” or “best” major. You should select a major that aligns with your skills, interests, and goals. Talking with a career counselor in the Career Development Center can help you explore the options. Don’t be afraid to change your major. It is estimated that about 80% of undergraduate students across the United States change their major at least once (National Center for Education Statistics, n.d.).
Get to know your fellow students It can feel intimidating at first, but it is important to get to know your fellow students because they can be a great resource. What better way to find others who share your same interests?
Get to know your professors Talk to your professors and attend their office hours. I promise they are not as scary as you might think. Professors are here to help you learn the material, challenge you to think outside the box, and further your understanding of the subject. They are also a great resource when you need letters of recommendation for scholarships, internships, or graduate school. Just remember, the better they know you, the easier it is for them to write a quality letter.
Put in the time & effort Some of the easiest ways to succeed include:
Meet with your advisor It is important to speak with your advisor early and often. They are the ones who will provide you with your registration pin number. But more than that, they can assist with course selection and planning; registration; understanding major and degree requirements; and navigating the processes to find extracurricular opportunities, internships, jobs, and more.
A diverse group of students from 10 different majors traded sleep for creating a marketable product at Oregon State University’s HWeekend on January 16-17. In just 30 hours, 11 teams built devices ranging from fun to serious — including a spider robot, a wearable musical instrument, and a “smart” mask air filter — and pitched their product to a panel of judges.
The fifth HWeekend, hosted by the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, expanded this time to include business majors, with the collaboration of the Austin Entrepreneurship Program (AEP). At the beginning of the event students pitched their ideas to each other and formed groups based on interest. Mentors were on hand to help the teams develop their idea into a prototype.
“It was fantastic work by all the teams and it was really hard to decide on the winner,” said Dale McCauley, program manager of the AEP. In fact, the judges could not decide on the top two and instead awarded three prizes.
Zack McClure, a student in chemical engineering, participated for the first time. He admits he did not know what to expect coming into the event and was pleasantly surprised at how well the team formation worked.
“We have all different majors on our team — chemical engineering, computer science, electrical engineering, renewable materials and mechanical engineering — we have no duplicates, but a perfect overlap and ability to mesh with each other,” McClure said.
Savannah Loberger, a computer science student, was also a first time attendee and was part of a multi-disciplinary team that included electrical engineering and business students.
“This has a different feel than working on a team for a class assignment because we got to pick a project that we all really like,” Loberger said. “So, it’s been cool to work with people who really care about what we are making.”
Loberger‘s team, Illumin8, won the top prize for an LED device that could be controlled wirelessly for events like football games. Second place winners were Comfort Coozi, a temperature-controlled, heated sleeve for disposable coffee cups; and Spider Minions, an eight-legged spider robot. Participants also voted for the best executed project which was awarded to My Baton, a musical instrument that can be controlled by hand movements. The Helping Hands award was given to the Bio-Shock team for being the most helpful to other teams.
HWeekend was sponsored by Rockwell Collins, the College of Engineering and the Austin Entrepreneurship Program.
As a freshman, or maybe even a sophomore, college can seem a bit daunting. Classes are harder and larger, there are three-hour labs, recitations, financial aid, football games, pressure to start research, Greek life, midterms, new friends and 10 weeks later there’s finals week. All of these events and aspects can pile up and before you realize it, you’re drowning in a first-year mid-term crisis.
As an entering sophomore in electrical and computer engineering here at OSU, I can recommend some resources and tips to help you through the hard times.
Check out the student groups and clubs on campus
Even in college, sometimes it can be hard to make friends, or find people you have a connection with. Joining a student group or club can be a great way of connecting with other people and having some great experiences! I joined the marching band last year, and was given the opportunity to perform in front of the entire football stadium each game, as well as travel to several away games. It was a great experience meeting all the other 200+ members and seeing us all come together for one common purpose.
There are dozens of student groups and clubs on campus, many of which might fit your interests in and out of the classroom. Whether its building rockets, cars, robots, or mobile apps; working on open source software; or even bass fishing, check out the engineering-specific clubs or the many other inclusive student groups at Oregon State.
Students with no previous robotic/electrical experience, HAVE NO FEAR
For those of you who may have no previous robotics or electrical experience, do not be worried. I personally was not a part of the robotics team in high school, nor had I ever had any real electrical experience, and I have managed to survive with very little wear and tear. However, if you are worried, there EECS peer mentors who are more than willing to help you out. Peer mentors are EECS students who can help you navigate the ins and outs of being an EECS student. They can assist with academic questions and are available for advice about classes, internships, clubs, and other opportunities.
Research and internship opportunities
It’s never too early to start thinking about internships and work experience. Having work experience in your field before you graduate will greatly enhance your employability when it comes time to look for a job, but it can take bit of hard work and perseverance. Simply sending an email, or talking to a professor after class, or attending office hours are all great first steps to making your name known. The School of EECS provides students with many opportunities to connect and gain experience. Also, making a connection with your academic advisor is a great way to find out about other opportunities.
Be aware of your physical and mental health
The transition to college may be a hard one, or may be an easy one. It all depends on each individual person. While this is true, it very important to keep tabs on your mental and physical wellbeing. The “freshman 15” is indeed a very real thing, as well as the possibility of declination of your mental well-being. The most important thing to combat both of these two happenings is to be cognitively aware of your decisions, and realize that your brain makes those decisions, and your body carries out those decisions. If either one is not working at its prime, things start to slip. You don’t need to be in crisis to take care of your mental health; make sure you know about Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS). The Dixon rec center and OSU’s Recreational Sports have many programs and opportunities for exercise, and relieving stress. Lastly, University Housing & Dining has many healthy eating options to keep your brain and body well nourished.
Get to know your professors
Yes, it may be intimidating to meet with your professors, however they are a great first resource when in need of help. Getting to know a professor may even help you down the road when you are in need of letters of recommendation, and some may even hire you as an undergraduate researcher. Attending office hours is the best way to communicate with professors individually. If their office hours don’t work with your schedule, feel free to send them an email to schedule an appointment.
Seek academic support
Oregon State and the College of Engineering have many resources for students to receive academic support with their class. The HUB in the College of Engineering has study tables and tutors for subjects such as physics, chemistry, math and electrical fundamentals. There are also engineering specific academic coaches who can help with skills such as organization, study skills, concentration, memory, note-taking, test-taking, and time management. Another resource are the academic tutors in the residence halls. Each residence hall will have a math and English tutor each week, as well as an Academic Learning Assistant who holds office hours every week.
Yes, it may be a struggle to get up for class in the morning… However, the knowledge that is shared and the connections that are made while attending class can never be recreated, and whether or not you attend class, you will still be held responsible for understanding the material. Some classes even have attendance as part of a requirement for passing. So just to be safe, go to class.
Get to know your advisor
Your advisor will help you make a plan, get involved in extracurricular activities, and advise you about what to do when you are struggling with a class. As a first year engineering student, you will meet with your advisor at least once a term to receive your registration PIN. If you make a good connection with your advisor, they can even help you find scholarships, research positions, and internship opportunities!
Check your ONID/OSU Google e-mail
Or make sure you have them forwarded to other e-mail accounts that you check regularly. This is the only way you’ll receive information from your professors and TAs about your classes and other important information that you need.
Represent your school
Hanna Anderson is from Bonney Lake, WA, and attended Bonney Lake High School, class of ’14. As a freshman, she was a member of the Oregon State marching band and joined the CreateIT Collaboratory, a program in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science to employ students on projects to develop new prototypes for industry clients.
She is now a sophomore in electrical and computer engineering. She decided to pursue an ECE degree because she really enjoys being able to understand how a piece of technology works, and thinking about how she could modify it to make it better. “ECE is a one big puzzle that I am continually being challenged to solve,” she said.
In her spare time, she enjoys playing the pianos around campus, as well as going into the Collaboratory and engulfing herself in new fun, interesting projects.
Dig’s research focus for the last 8 years has been on techniques for transforming sequential code into parallel code. He is acutely aware of the need for software developers to learn these techniques now that all new devices from smartphones to desktops use parallel processors. In response, he has organized workshops at Boeing and the Illinois-Intel Parallelism Center at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign to help professional programmers improve the performance of their applications by using parallelism in software.
Dig will instruct the class along with other software experts including Tim Matsson from Intel Corporation who is co-author of the influential book, “Patterns for Parallel Programming,” and Doug Lea, professor at State University of New York at Oswego and the lead architect of Java concurrency libraries.
“I teach it as a unique blend of lectures and labs that are deeply integrated. It’s not theoretical, it’s very hands-on,” Dig said. After 30 minutes of lecture, students work on planned exercises on their own laptops with help from teaching assistants.
Dig said that the very pragmatic approach has been well received by past participants. For example, a Boeing engineer commented: “Excellent course: relevant, well done, timely. Well worth the time and effort. I would recommend this course to all our developers.”
This is the first time he will offer the class in a compressed format over a weekend instead of a full week, to make it easier for software developers to attend without missing work. The shortened course cannot cover all the same content, so he will offer additional resources for the material not covered, and there is a possibility he would offer a follow-up course based on interest.
Dig is excited to be hosting the class in Portland, a hub of software development, so he can start building relationships with local software practitioners.
“A constant dialogue with practitioners keeps my research centered and very focused on current software development problems,” he said.
But these classes fulfill another need for him as well.
“Fundamentally, I’m a teacher and I love seeing the lights go on — it’s my mission in life to help people develop their full potential,” Dig said.