5

I grew up doing electronics, radio, and soldering kits with my Dad. Later I did programming. (This was during the 80's - during a time when hobbyist electronics was extremely popular.)

Now (2017) hobbyist electronics isn't really as popular. Kids are given programming opportunities via Scratch and similar apps on iPads.

To me the skills associated with soldering and understanding how electricity flows around a circuit are completely different to understanding the data flow and control flow in a computer program. (I work in computer programming). I accept that the job prospects associated with electronics are significantly decreased compared to the 1980s.

I had this conversation with a friend and he said:

Yeah I did the electronics as a kid. And I use it now for all my audio work. But my kids just do programming in Scratch. I don't need to teach them electronics. It's just about abstraction and problem solving. You can apply that anywhere.

My question is: Does teaching my daughter programming give them the same benefits as when I learned electronics as a child?

  • 1
    I'd think that's impossible to answer if you don't define how you benefited from electronics as a child. Are you just talking about abstraction and problem-solving? – Pascal says Talk To Monica Dec 17 '17 at 12:57
  • 2
    Why do you think it's not as popular? With solder pens, 3d printers, arduino, diy websites, etc, i feel like hobbyist electronics is still quite popular, and more accessible than ever – user29403 Dec 18 '17 at 15:31
5

No, this doesn't give them the same benefits as you got from learning electronics.

It gives them different benefits, sure, and programming is a much bigger industry than it was thirty years ago, but electronics is actually a bigger industry than it was when we were kids, too.

Scratch is useful, but it doesn't give people that understanding of underlying principles, hardware or physical processes.

So whether or not it will be a benefit will depend on where they want to go and what they want to do. The problem solving is going to be useful anywhere, but not being grounded in hardware will make it more difficult for them to understand some areas.

3

Now (2017) hobbyist electronics isn't really as popular. Kids are given programming opportunities via Scratch and similar apps on iPads.

I would disagree with this premise. There is a certain uniqueness and pride to creating something physical which you can touch and show to people that you don't get from a screen - this applies not just electronics but to anything physical, box-karts made from scrap, creative systems (like Lego) that enable the easy construction of mechanical and static models, and traditional model building cutting out plastic parts to glue them together etc.

An object which is subject to the environment, has physical properties which might make it behave in unpredictable ways, or does not offer a guarantee of success is always going to be engaging to an enquiring mind and useful in the wider world - IMHO a "virtual" or computer-based creations should be seen as addition to such activities and by no means a replacement.

By way of example, my girls (aged 5 + 11) like to play with Lego as well as Minecraft etc. My 5-year-old loves nothing more than to create simple circuits using a Cambridge Brainbox Primary2 kit (like this one which features a fan which, if a circuit is correctly built, will take off and fly across the room. She can spend quite a long time going through the different options for switches and can do simple troubleshooting and experiment (like if the polarity on the motor is wrong then the fan will spin but fail to take off.) The experience she gets from this real-world activity is a world away from following instructions to copy something on a screen.

Also electronics vs. programming is by no means an Either/Or situation - there is huge scope for the two worlds to collide. For example a build of Scratch exists for the low-cost Raspberry Pi platform (we're talking hardware starting from $5) which enables Scratch applications to interface with the physical world through both input and output, and for the more advanced you can delve into more low-level programming via Arduino etc. The potential for entry into the field of robotics both for recreation and work is vastly greater than they were in our youth - as barriers to entry drop I can certainly see a future need for more customised/bespoke electronic devices than existed in our youth.

The benefits are not even just about electronics, there is a growing shortage of people at graduate level with fine motor skills because people don't practice them as children (either through electronics / soldering or as art / crafting). I heard (on BBC R4, can't remember the exact show so I can't give you the source) a university lecturer had trouble getting students to train as surgeons because they simply lacked the motor skills necessary even though they were academically excellent.

TL;DR - No, making and programming do not give the same benefits. Making (not necessarily electronics) trains the physical and fine motor skills which are always going to be very valuable throughout your daughter's lifetime.

3

First you are wrong about prospects.

A typical EE is in more demand than a typical programmer. The general push to get kids into science is aimed at programing right now because it is so easy to get into; almost every family in the developed world has a tool to program with, the only cost is effort from the student. And a dancing cat is more casually interesting than turning on a lightbulb.

Most of the projects I follow require serious efforts in both hardware and software. There are increasingly versatile off the shelf robot parts that communicate conveniently with programs, but making new parts is as deep a field as combining existing ones with new programs.

Second different doesn't mean better.

Programming has more abstraction, but abstraction isn't the only way to measure goodness. It's probably not even that good of a way. The ability of programming to deal with multiple levels of abstraction similarly is closer to being a clear advantage, but there are trade offs:

Safety is really not expected to be an issue at all for hobbyist programing, but even a elementary school electronics kit will cause burns and shocks. Seeing a project fail the smoke test is a different kind of feeling than having a segmentation fault. Bricking a device might be about the same, but generally doesn't facilitate a productive post mortem. Reading online, the take away is very likely to be a limiting "don't mess with the [whatever killed it]" rather than the correct "be careful", and is much rarer (probably isn't possible with Scratch). The lack of cost of failure leads to prioritizing reach over grasp.

Copying and sharing ideas is good for electronics growth, but needs to be managed in programming. Copy/Paste is the standard in electronics (in a broad way that's what an IC is) but a trap for a beginning programmer. If you read "this works" on an electronics forum that is only halfway to a project, so you might take the design and be proud of making it work, but no matter how cool an effect you won't be proud of doing the same from a programming board. This means creativity rather than skill is featured.

0

You also probably want to consider what SHE likes in this question-asking process. Maybe she likes programming better than working with electronics, or vice versa. Maybe she likes both, but with a preference for one or the other, or likes them both practically equally. There's nowhere that says that she can't do both, especially at a young age. In fact, she would benefit from knowing the physical manifestations of programming something in an electronic circuit/system just as much as she would benefit from understanding the software control structure of her electronics projects.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.